Monday, April 19, 2010

"Almost Done" and other such nonsense

I knew that it was going to be an off day when I woke up with chest pains still lingering from yesterday... which were lingering from the day before that... which were lingering from the day before that. It was off, but salvageable. Discomfort I can deal with. But the second one of my customers (an 8 year old girl) and her Dad made a special request for dog related cheek-art, I knew the day was shot. I didn't have a chance.

My day, in 2 parts.

Act 1: The Blue Dog

I called out for the next person in line and a little girl no more than 8, with a messy blond page-boy cut clad entirely in blue approached my face-painting station with her Dad. The Dad told me that his daughter would like to have a dog's head painted on her cheek. This is not something we offer nor something I thought would come out well, which I explain to him as I ticked off other possible cheek-art options (since he was obviously full-face-paint-a-phobic.)

"I can do a spider, dolphins, hearts, or oooh! Flowers. They're really beautiful." (Addressing the little girl directly, hands on my knees to bring me to eye level for her) "Would you like to have some gorgeous little sparkly blue flowers on your cheeks to match that cute little outfit of yours?"

And she said, and I quote, "Nah, I'm a tom boy. I'll just be a dog."

The women in line behind her exploded into fits of laughter. The Dad glanced back reproachfully. The little girl looked at me eager for paint, oblivious to the ridicule. My heart ached, separate of my chest pains.

As my brush made the first strokes (around the eye for the fluffy brow look, down the sides of the mouth for the whiskery look), I decided to make some small talk with the girl. Dogs seemed to be a good subject for her as she was becoming one. Gender expression is a complicated subject but a love of dogs is pretty straight forward, right? How can you screw up with puppies?

"Do you have a puppy at home?"


This was good. (Puppies: the universal language.)

"...Well, I did. She died yesterday."


Act 2: "Almost Done"

I had promised that I would go to hospital after work. So after some delicious falafel at Alyans, and grabbing some chai at The Bean, Dave and I walked over to the ER.

I felt silly going into the ER for chest pains I'd been having for days. It was like calling 911 over cars parked in the bike lane. Not really urgent, but the only choice (as an uninsured person  not feeling sick within walk-in clinic hours.)

As I checked in I was immediately scolded by the woman at the front desk for not coming in sooner. Chest pain is S-E-R-I-O-U-S, she said. Yeah, I explained, but I am L-A-Z-Y and didn't want to sit through the Saturday night bar brawls spilling into the ER waiting room. (which has happened before.) Within minutes a dude in blue scrubs came to sweep me out of my special "urgent care" chair to start testing my thumper. There were 15 or so sick people sitting in the waiting room behind me who would continue to wait as I was being seen, and I thought of them as the dude in blue scrubs beckoned me into the healing interior of the hospital. Looking out at the coughing kid and the crumpled woman, I protested.

"Hey uh... this isn't really that urgent. I've felt like this for days. I'm prepared to wait. I ate a big meal and I brought a book just for the occasion. These people look really sick, why don't you help them first?"

This was immediately shot down by the dude in blue scrubs, who told me that chest pain was S-E-R-I-O-U-S. (Alright, alright.) I gave in, and with a final glance back at the people in the waiting room, passed the threshold of the double swinging ER doors.

The Dude In Blue Scrubs (Dibs from now on) adjusted heart monitor #1, and I approached nervously. "This is just like... electrodes... right? Like... no needles or prickly things?" I sounded like a 12 year old.

He told me that yes, it was a basic EKG and there would be no needles... yet. I laughed. Funny guy. Then a thought struck me.

"You were uh... kidding... about the needles... right?"

He turned around to face me. He was not smiling. "No. First we do the EKG, then we need to take your blood."

The room spun. I sat down. "T-t-t-t-take... my... b-b-b-b-blood?" I felt nauseous. (You can read about my last blood-draw here.)

THEN Dibs laughed. Funny guy. He stared my sleeve and screwed his eyebrows up in a way that meant, "seriously?!" Yeahhhh har har. Very funny. The girl with tattoos is afraid of prickly things. After a long bout of seinfeld-esque banter about my fear of penetrative needles, his fear of sharks, and the absolute necessity of my blood being drawn, I announced with great bravado, "I WILL BE BRAVE!" and stuck out my arm.

I immediately recanted this statement (and withdrew my arm) as he reached for the needle. Was I fucking mental? No way was I getting my blood drawn. Not on my life! Only... it was on my life. I white-flagged with reluctance.

I hounded Dibs about his background in blood drawing. ("Is today your first day? Are you new? How many times exactly have you drawn blood?") I asked if he would miss my vein. ("No.") I made him promise not puncture the other side of my vein. ("I promise.") And finally, I made him promise not to make fun of me in the event that I acted foolishly once the needle was in my arm. ("I'll try.")

Dibs suggested we "look at the needle" to gear up for the big event. This was disastrous and ended in slight hysteria on my end. Once I cleared that up, and apologized, and blushed... we sought a new approach.

He suggested we just "do it!"

Just "do it"?! I thought of every possible way to make excuses out of that room and back home. But, a blood test was the only way to sense damage to my heart (tears, past heart attacks, etc) so I, remorsefully, agreed. Gingerly I gave him my arm. He complimented my veins. I told him about the Gynecologist that once complimented my cervix while taking a pap smear. "What's with you medical people!? I have nice veins and a beautiful cervix? What do I say to that? 'Thanks I've been working on them'?!"

After the awkward laughter broke he counted to three, the needle slipped into my vein, and I sobbed hysterically. Drooling, whimpering, sniffling. But here's why I didn't really lose it (like I have in the past): from the second he put the needle in, Dibs chanted in a calm and soothing voice, "Almost done. Almost done. Almost done." This, as I told him later, was exactly what I do when I paint kids that won't sit still.  "Almost done" has no  connection to reality. I will say "almost done" before I've completed the first line on a batman. "Sure kid, you're almost done. I just need to start and finish. That's all." I knew exactly what he was doing, which made my embarrassment all the more burning. I was the blood-tech's nose scruncher. I was the occupational annoyance.

When it was over I almost passed out, and then almost vomited. Dibs thought this was all very funny, which it was, and I knew it was, even as it was happening. ("Yo man cut me some slack, I've just been though some MAJOR TRAUMA here and suffered MASSIVE blood loss, so it's only natural that I'm freaking out. Hahahaha... oh my god I'm going to puke...")

From there I did the usual x rays and meet-n-greet with the doctor. 4 hours later got my results: I'm perfectly healthy, my heart is fine, my chest pain is a mystery and I need to see another doctor later this week about it.

Basically: they don't know.

For this, I gave blood. Mom, Dad, Dave.... I hope you're freakin happy.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Nose Scrunching and the Tent Guru

Mexican dance music from almost a block away serves as soundtrack for one of this week's many fights below my window. As I type this a woman stands screaming on the sidewalk in a thick South Philly accent, "Pussy fuckin BITCH! I'll smack yous right in ya fuckin moufs wit my belt you fuckin mouf off ta me. That's right fuckin run, run.." (etc, etc) Now cue the pitter-patter of not-so-little feet taking off south toward Snyder. Ah, to be alive.

Face painting season is back in full swing. Saturday was my first day back in the tent. It's somewhat comforting that when life is so unpredictable (like hearing gunshots while eating brunch) you will always know exactly what you'll find in the tent. It never changes. The paints are always the same color, the children you paint never seem never to age, you work beside the same old people, every year confronted by the same problem: people that scrunch their noses. This is one of the biggest on-job dilemmas we face painters face, something we all gripe about, something we dread. Nose scrunchers.

In the tent tackling the nose scunchers, your life outside of face painting feels surreal. No matter what you've done in the past, you're now back in the same place you always were, in the same tie dyed shirt, feeling both out of place (I glitter 6 year olds for a living?) and at home (ahhh, beach berry red, my favorite!) at once. Things are as they always were, as they were last year, the year before, and despite your hair being longer and your hand distinctively less young looking, you start to wonder if you ever left.

Catching up with all my co-workers was odd this time around as we're all reaching our 3, 4, and 5 year anniversaries with the company and most of us were feeling the humbling and bizarre effect of the tent as time marches on for all of us yet beach berry red remains the same.

"So, what'd you do since last time I saw you?"
"I uh... went to Russia... and uh... Greece... and, hey little dude, don't scrunch your nose, ok?"
"Russia? Holy shit. Whoooooo's next? You want to be a butterfly? Oke doke!"
"What about you? Chin up little man, I can't paint your face if I can't see it!"
"Well uh, my girlfriend got cancer, her car caught on fire, I moved to NYC, was going to backpack around the world, canceled my flight... there you go sweetie, you're a butterfly!... moved back to Philly, I'm living with my Mom and uh.. now I'm back here. Face painting. Again."
"All of that happened over the winter?! NEXT IN LINE PLEASE!"
"....yeah... do you want sparkles little lady?"

The tent is like a silent spiritual guide for us, leaving us riddles to ponder while we crank out endless spider men and princesses. If nothing changes in the tent while everything changes in your life ("Don't scrunch your nose.") does anything really change if in the end you feel the same? Are your problems ("Just relax your nose, yes... relax...") really that significant when the scrunching of a child's nose trumps them all?